Head of the Our Friends In The North syndicate, Ian Robinson, has revealed that Imperial Commander, the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup Winner will not run this season.
The 10-y-o gelding developed a tendon problem in a front leg, which will keep him out for up to a year.
Mr Robinson said “We found a bit of heat in one of his legs after exercise earlier this week. Whilst it was cold within 48 hours we ran a precautionary scan which showed a 12% tear in the tendon. I had a great day in his company on Tuesday when we carried out the scan, he is a very happy horse in good order with himself.
The damage will repair itself with plenty of walking, and as he always enjoys his time at Mounttop Stud in Ireland so this will be a well deserved extended holiday. We will wait until the end of next summer and he can tell us what he wants to do next if anything”.
David Muir, the RSPCA consultant who works closely with racing on behalf of the charity, has been in the news lately. David very kindly gave me twenty minutes of his time yesterday to record the following interview.
“Recent media coverage seems to have given the impression that excessive whip use has suddenly become an issue because of the Grand National and Jason Maguire’s suspension. The fact is the RSPCA and myself have been concerned about incorrect use of the whip in racing for a long time, and I have done a lot of work on the issue with a number of people.
“Although the RSPCA have always taken a pragmatic view on the whip, and indeed on racing, things are now getting out of hand. Unless something is done about excessive use of the whip, I can see it being banned completely and that is something I don’t want to see. The whip is needed for safety and discipline in races but how do you quantify encouragement? That’s the area that needs addressing.
“I’ve read Mark Johnston’s piece where he says that horses need to feel the whip as they tire towards the finish, for their own safety, to keep them running straight in a balanced fashion. To a degree Mark has a point but what you can’t do is defend the indefensible. If the application of pain is a necessary ingredient for racing, then I see racing going into an area that’s problematic.
“The whip is a work in progress. The one used now in racing bears no comparison whatever to the whip used five years ago. If I’d have hit myself hard on the back of the hand with a whip from five years ago, I’d break all four fingers. I could do it with the current whip and not even leave a mark.
“The current whip has a cylindrical core covered with foam. As it tapers down to the part which strikes the horse, it flattens out into a foam covered paddle which gives on contact with the horse and the reduction in pain, compared with the old whip, is dramatic.
“Used in the backhand style, the whip is perfectly acceptable, it’s when jockeys change to the forehand there is an implication that they want to apply as much pain as possible, and that’s where I fall out.
“We need to make sure that the correct balance is reached in whip design and in its use by jockeys. Doubling the foam-covering for example would make the whip useless for correction and discipline purposes. But used in the backhand position, I can never see a point in the future where I, or the RSPCA, would have a problem with the whip and that is the way I think the BHA will go with this.
“The only alternative I can see to that is that the whip is to be carried for safety and correction only, as in the current hands and heels races.
“The whole point of me, and the RSPCA working side by side with racing is to try to help understand both sides of the issues as we work to improve the welfare of horses. It’s alright standing outside and criticising racing but when you are working with racecourse management and the BHA, as we do, you see the problems they face.
“For example, I’m working closely at the moment on a hurdle design project with students at Southampton University, which is due to finish next month. For a year we’ve been looking at hurdle design. Along with four graduates, we’ve been examining design to see if we can improve safety in hurdling and reduce fatalities. I’m not in racing simply to criticise, I’m there to work with those involved to try to improve things”.
On the question of disqualification of a horse if its jockey is found guilty of improper use of the whip, David said:
“The Jockey should be disqualified, not the horse. Disqualifying the horse affects many other people; owners, trainers, punters, the whole system of betting. Just imagine a jockey who wants to actually lose a race, he knows excessive use will get the horse disqualified”.
I asked David if he was involved in the decision to ask jockeys to dismount immediately after the Grand National. He said:
“This is another issue that’s been taken completely out of context. I’ve been involved with the National now for fourteen years. When I first went there I fought like billy-o to get loads of water and I’ve got it now, about a hundred buckets and big tanks full of water with ice-bags in them.
“When the horses come in after four and a half miles, they’re very hot. Tim Morris (equine science and welfare director for the BHA) gave an instruction this year to jockeys to get off as soon they got in, get the saddles off and get water on the horses to cool them down. It wasn’t just the winner that got the treatment, I must have thrown water over twenty or thirty horses. It’s a welfare issue and a good thing for racing to do”.
Asked about the image the hurried scrambling with water gave to the public, David said, “I think there was a major PA problem there. They should have explained what was going on. It’s a bit like when the screens go up on the course; everybody just assumes it’s a dead horse but that’s not always the case.
“Racing needs to take another step forward in explaining things. The whip is a classic example. Most people don’t know about the structure of a whip and how it behaves in use. We need to be more open and help people understand things much better”.
We touched on the situation in Australia where the RSPCA were instrumental in getting NH racing banned in all but two states. David made the point that there’s almost no resemblance to jump racing there and in the UK, in the quality and type of horses used. He said:
“I can never see a situation where the RSPCA would support a call for the banning of National Hunt racing in Britain. Remember, what we are about is the prevention of cruelty and the definition of cruelty is ‘the gratuitous application of pain for the enjoyment of the person who’s doing it’. Now where in racing does the term ‘cruel’ fit? Tragic? Yes. Cruel? I can’t see that. The RSPCA does not try to justify the deaths of racehorses, but we will work tirelessly to reduce them. It’s a high risk sport and the RSPCA’s position in it is to help make it as risk-free as possible”.
On Towcester’s decision to have only ‘hands and heels’ races from October 5th onwards David said, “It’s a brave and positive way forward and I congratulate them on their courage and tenacity in the face of these recent concerns about whip use”.
It was little surprise to many that the 10-year-old unshipped Brian Hughes at Aintree. Tidal Bay’s renowned for sloppy jumping over fences, yet Saturday was the first time in his 30-race career he has failed to finish. Bar one 7th and one 5th, the horse has never been out of the first four.
“I don’t know what to do with him at the moment, but he didn’t really have a race at Aintree,” said Johnson.
“He only got as far as the 10th and he was just lobbing along on the inside when he got rid of Brian .
“The horse has come back and has been in the field ever since. He’s bucking, kicking and squealing.
“He’s eating up well and kicking sky-high when other horses are going past. He’s very well.
“He doesn’t over-exert himself and he’s had an easy season. He’s been geared up for the Grand National and it went wrong on me.
“He’s a 10-year-old now and where can he go now? I might be tempted to run him on Saturday.”
Grand National deaths: racing’s PR veteran Rob Hartnett says racing is in the dock and the jury is not on our side
I invited a few ‘people who tweet’ to write guest articles on the Grand National debate. A PR perspective from outside the industry, by Matt Taylor, was published yesterday. Today, racing’s PR veteran, the much respected Rob Hartnett adds his point of view. Rob runs his own PR Consultancy in Dublin advising clients in betting and gaming, sport, the trade union sector, arts, education and new technology. He was former PR and Sponsorship Director at the Tote and Managing Director at BETDAQ Racing.
The debate on the Grand National has brought to the fore a stark moral hazard which many in racing have always lived with but which poses a serious threat to the long term future of the race and the sport.
In Britain to a much greater extent than Ireland or most other countries, the debate around animal welfare owes a great deal to anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics to horses in particular. Owing in part to Mr Ed, Black Beauty or Champion the wonder horse, we who enjoy the sport do so because we fall victim in our hearts to the noble charm, bravery and courage of our favourite horses.
Whether it is Denman, Dawn Run or in my case, Buck House from the mid 1980’s, and Florida Pearl from a more recent decade, our heroic horses beguile and enchant us. Seeing the last named in happy retirement at the National Stud makes me feel good about the care and attention lavished on those who race for our pleasure.
Do they race for their pleasure though, or are we asking them quite literally to race for their lives? I am troubled over the way events have unfolded in the past 48 hours. To the general public, the sport of horse racing looks one in which animals are bred in order to provide betting opportunities and forced to race over fences that expose them to far too great a risk.
The Grand National is the one day of the year that racing overcomes this and holds the nation’s attention. Crowds flock to Aintree to eat, drink, be merry, drink a bit more, and be entertained. Millions of workers, families, painters, plumbers, priests and pole dancers cut up their pieces of paper or shake their iPhones to generate a sweepstake that will give them the thrill of dipping a toe into the murky world of villains, vagabonds and bookies that they perceive racing to be and would normally shy away from in trepidation.
Of course the perception is wrong but Dick Francis has a lot more readers than Timeform and public perception is a powerful force.
The Grand National overcomes the general antipathy towards racing. How many of today’s betting public and racing folk can date their love affair with the sport to the days of Red Rum and other heroes of the Grand National? Without it the opportunity to thrill new followers will be lost. That is why it is so important to heed what is being said.
Ten years ago public opinion was shaped by newspaper editors and broadcasting executives. Today they still prime the national debate but now through new social media, they no longer control it. If I was working for animal rights activists I would see the last two days as the beginning of my greatest opportunity to end once and for all the sport of racing, at least over fences. Many have said that racing should sit tight and wait for the storm to blow over. But this year’s race has left a stain, and to bundle it away without addressing the issues is to store up greater trouble in future.
On Saturday afternoon two horses died. A young Jockey suffered a brain injury the extent of which is yet unknown but who has been shockingly overlooked as animal rights forced its way into the hearts and minds of a good proportion of the general public.
The most damaging aspect was that they died on the racecourse and for reasons of safety, forced two fences to be bypassed. That the BBC chose to show a high level shot which forced their broken bodies centre stage is perhaps why their passing, more than any other equine deaths in recent years, is of such importance.
The general public will sanction wrongdoing by turning away when they don’t have to face it. On Saturday, and just in case they missed it, in the ‘highlights’ programme in the small hours of Sunday morning, it could not be avoided.
Hence the debate from back pages to breakfast shows, Jeremy Vine and the One Show sofa. All of it conducted by animal rights activists on one side, who knew exactly which strings to pull to win public empathy, and racing experts on the other who spoke of ‘acceptable risk’ and the notion that the horses have a good time and really enjoy their racing. It was a one sided affair.
My children watched the race. They cheered the winner and asked why the horses had to miss the fences. I told them the horses were dead. They asked did that happen often and I said no, that the horses were very well looked after from when they were born to when they retired and that as herd animals they naturally ran and jumped in the wild so racing was in their nature. They were not sure. They asked if a horse did not want to jump those big fences could they say no. Sometimes it is from the mouths of children that we can glean the clearest picture of what the outside world thinks.
They were right to point out that these horses did not have a choice.
That argument is twisted though in suggesting people matter less because they can choose. That is a cheap shot which should be knocked back by those who argue racing’s case. All of us have crosses to bear in life. We overcome hardships, setbacks and illness, knowing we will die in the end but content to soldier on because life itself is what makes it all worthwhile.
So it is with horses, most if not all of whom would never have lived were it not for racing. The lives of countless thousands of horses have been enhanced by welfare programmes created out of a desire to breed sturdy animals. Those who care for horses generally do so with genuine love and affection for them.
But this is immaterial in the court of public opinion and that is where racing will need soon and more frequently to present a cogent case for its continuance. On Monday evening the British Horseracing Authority issued a robust defence of welfare provision in the sport and at the Grand National in particular. It was strong but it was late. It touched on the ethical question but did not address it. That is the key issue for the future of racing.
To those who would argue that this will be quickly forgotten and the public interest will have moved on to talent shows and the Royal wedding within the beat of a butterfly’s wing, let me end on a medieval word of caution.
From the sixteenth century for three hundred years the sport of bear baiting was immensely popular throughout Britain. Enjoying Royal patronage from Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I it attracted the masses until a point when the public conscience was ‘touched’ and the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 was introduced, banning the practice which the public, through parliament had wearied of.
Steeplechasing as we know it, and after which of course this blog is named, is approximately 260 years old.
We know through the study of form that history teaches us much of what will happen in the future. Racing should take heed and be prepared.
Backstage vying for favouritism in John Smith’s Grand National: extensive Factfile on horse and connections
b g Passing Sale (FR) – Madame Nathalie (FR) (Dreams To Reality (USA))
9-10-12 Form: 0F3/64313/223/28/71123138UP-570 Owner: MPR & Capranny Syndicate
Trainer: Gordon Elliott IRE Breeder: Ecurie Passing Jockey: Davy Condon
Originally trained by Jehan Bertran de Balanda, Backstage failed to shine in five starts over hurdles in France and was third on his chasing debut at Clairefontaine in July, 2006. He was sent over to Britain shortly afterwards by then owner Sir Robert Ogden and made a winning start for trainer Evan Williams that October when easily accounting for his five rivals in a novices’ chase at Cheltenham.
He was tailed off on his next appearance in an Aintree novices’ chase the following month and missed the rest of the season. Sent over hurdles for the 2007/08 season, Backstage went down by a head in a handicap at Leicester but he once again failed to progress when beaten in novice hurdles at Warwick and Wincanton. His final appearance for Ogden and Williams came when second in a Utttoxeter novice hurdle in May, 2008.
He was sold for 13,000 guineas at Doncaster shortly afterwards. He made a winning debut for new connections, Irish-based trainer Gordon Elliott and a syndicate made up of his stable staff, easily landing a point-to-point at Castletown-Geoghegan in October, 2008. Backstage continued to thrive between the flags, winning three of his five subsequent starts, and he ran a fine race on his first attempt over the Grand National fences, coming home eighth in the John Smith’s Fox Hunter’s Chase at the 2009 John’s Smith’s Grand National Meeting.
After taking seventh in the Punchestown Champion Hunters Chase, Backstage scored impressively in a three-mile handicap chase on good to firm going at Perth at the end of May. He won and was second in novices’ hurdles at the Scottish course in July and was third in a Listed handicap chase at Market Rasen in August. He posted a superb victory in a valuable extended three-mile handicap chase at Ffos Las just six days later.
With all roads leading to the 2010 John Smith’s Grand National, Backstage did not make a racecourse appearance until February, when he took third in a novices’ hurdle at Musselburgh in the colours of Middleham Park Racing, who had purchased a 50 per cent share in the horse just before Christmas. He warmed up for Aintree by taking eighth in a two and a half mile Grade Three chase at Navan in March, but unseated at the 20th fence in the 2010 John Smith’s Grand National.
He disappointed in his next four starts under Rules between April and July and was then put away until reappearing with a 10-length victory in a Kirkistown point-to-point on February 12 and continued his low-key Aintree prep with a seven-length success in another point-to-point at The Pigeons on March 6.
Race Record (under Rules): Starts: 26; Wins: 4; 2nd: 4; 3rd: 6; Win & Place Prize Money: £77,169
Backstage will carry the colours of Middleham Park Racing in the John Smith’s Grand National after the syndicate bought a 50 per cent share in the horse from the Capranny Stable Staff Syndicate in a deal brokered by former jump jockey Tom Malone just before Christmas, 2009.
Middleham Park Racing (MPR) was set up in 1995, starting out with two syndicates, and has established itself as one of the main syndication companies in the UK, enjoying more than 300 winners. Notable horses to have carried the MPR silks to victory include prolific all-weather winner China Castle, Beverley Listed scorer Exceptional Art, Royal Ascot and Cheltenham Festival hero Junior, and Dhaular Dhar, who has made the frame in heritage handicaps at Ascot on five occasions.
The Capranny Stable Staff Syndicate is made up of employees from Gordon Elliott’s Capranny Stables in Co Meath, Ireland, including all of Backstage’s work riders, travelling head lads Sarah Parsons and Jordan ‘Sparky’ Chalmers, vet Eduardo Martinez, chief yardman Jimmy Smith and head lad Simon McGonagle, who partnered Backstage to four of his point-to-point victories.
Each member put in 100 euros to purchase Backstage and the horse has more than repaid his supporters with nine victories between the flags and under Rules, including when netting £31,310 for winning the inaugural Freebets.co.uk Handicap Chase at Ffos Las in August, 2009.
John Smith’s Grand National record: 2010 Backstage (UR 20th)
Gordon Elliott IRE
Born on March 2, 1978, in Summerhill, Co Meath, Gordon Elliott was a very successful point-to-point rider, who also partnered winners under Rules. He started his racing career while still at school, working at Tony Martin’s stable in County Meath, Ireland. From there, he moved to Britain, joining Martin Pipe’s in 2002, and during his spell in Somerset his six rides as an amateur included one winner. Elliott then returned to Ireland for another term at Martin’s stables.
In 2004, Barry Callaghan, head of the Dun Doire syndicate, bought Capranny Stables at Trim in County Meath. When Elliott started his training career, early in 2006, those stables became his base. Elliott’s first runner under Rules came at the 2006 Cheltenham Festival, when Brandon Mountain was pulled up in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
He continued to send runners over to the UK and enjoyed almost instant success, most notably with Arresting, who notched up four victories between May and July, 2006. Elliott’s John Smith’s Grand National victory with Silver Birch in 2007 was remarkable not only because he was only 29 at the time, but also because he had yet to saddle a winner in his native country. The winners in Ireland soon followed and Elliott enjoyed big-race success with the former Epsom Derby fifth Salford City, who won the Grade Two Tipperary Hurdle in October, 2007, while he also continued to send horses to the UK.
He soon gained a reputation as a shrewd judge of horses. Elliott is particularly fond of having runners at Perth and has sent out 54 winners (up to March 16th) at the Scottish venue. Further afield, Elliott saddled Salford City to finish third in a Grade Two chase at Saratoga, USA, in August, 2008, and the gelding also contested the Grade One New York Turf Writers Cup Chase at the same course three weeks later.
Last season’s leading performers included juvenile hurdler Carlito Brigante, who recorded a Grade Two victory at Leopardstown and was fourth in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010. Elliott’s first Cheltenham Festival success came with Chicago Grey in this year’s National Hunt Chase, while Jessie’s Dream, winner of the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase, was runner-up in the Grade One RSA Chase a little over an hour later. His second Festival win came on the same day with Carlito Brigante in the Coral Cup. The trainer has also enjoyed major Flat success with Dirar in the 2010 Ebor at York.
John Smith’s Grand National Record: 2007 SILVER BIRCH (WON); 2009 Silver Birch (Fell 22nd); 2010 Backstage (UR 20th)
Davy Condon, whose father Mick was a leading amateur and point-to-point rider, was born on December 3, 1984. He started his career in 2000 as a 15-year-old apprentice Flat jockey with Willie Mullins, had his first winner the next season and ended that year with five successes from 95 rides.
In the next three seasons, he took his win tally up to 75 (it has since gone into three figures) and his most notable association was with the Mullins-trained Holy Orders, whom he rode in 30 races across both codes, including when well beaten in the 2003 Melbourne Cup. As Condon’s weight increased, he looked to the National Hunt world and rode his first winner over hurdles in November, 2004.
He had his first, and so far only, Cheltenham Festival success aboard Ebaziyan in the 2007 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the following year moved from Ireland to become stable jockey to Nicky Richards’ Cumbrian yard following Tony Dobbin’s retirement, winning the 2008 Peterborough Chase on Monet’s Garden and 2009 Scottish Champion Hurdle on Noble Alan.
He returned home for the 2009/10 season and rode mainly for Noel Meade, striking up a good rapport with Go Native on whom he won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton although he missed out on his share of a potential £1 million bonus when the horse was beaten in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
He also won two Grade One novice chases in December, 2009 aboard the Meade-trained Pandorama, while the Michael Smith-trained Orsippus gave him a further top level victory in the Matalan 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s 2010 John Smith’s Grand National meeting.
This season, he rode Realt Dubh and Fully Funded to Grade Two successes and partnered Benefit Night to win the Leinster National on March 6. Condon is a cousin of fellow rider Paul Townend. John Smith’s Grand National Record: 2007 Homer Wells (PU 22nd), 2010 Backstage (UR 20th)
Don’t Push It, who famously gave owner J P McManus, trainer Jonjo O’Neill and jockey Tony (A P) McCoy a first victory in the John Smith’s Grand National 12 months ago, heads the 65 contenders going forward at today’s five-day confirmation stage for the 2011 renewal of the world’s greatest chase at Aintree on Saturday, April 9.
This year’s race, run over four and a half miles and 30 fences, is due off at 4.15pm and boasts record prize money of £950,000.
There were no surprise withdrawals today and Don’t Push It continues to head the weights on 11st 10lb, meaning that any raising of the weights looks highly unlikely. The McManus/O’Neill combination could also be represented by Quolibet (10st 8lb) and Can’t Buy Time (10st 4lb).
The John Smith’s Grand National is the most obvious omission from the CV of champion trainer Paul Nicholls and the Somerset handler still has four to choose from headed by What A Friend (11st 6lb), who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and finished an excellent fourth in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup last time out. The Tother One (11st), 2009 Irish Grand National winner Niche Market (10st 13lb) and Ornais (10st 4lb) complete the Nicholls quartet.
Irish-trained horses have done spectacularly well in the John Smith’s Grand National in recent years, accounting for six of the 12 winners since 1999. A total of 20 Irish-trained horses remain engaged in this year’s contest including The Midnight Club(10st 13lb), the current 8/1 favourite with totesport, official betting partner of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National meeting. The 10-year-old is trained by Willie Mullins, who sent out Hedgehunter to victory in 2005, and is the likely mount of Ruby Walsh, who is the winning-most current jockey in the John Smith’s Grand National following his two previous triumphs aboard Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2005). Mullins could also be represented by Dooneys Gate (11st 4lb), ridden by the trainer’s amateur rider son Patrick, Arbor Supreme (10st 3lb), Our Monty (10st 3lb) and Pomme Tiepy (9st 9lb), though the last named is very unlikely to get a run as the maximum field is 40.
Other prominent Irish-trained contenders include Oscar Time (10st 9lb), who could give the Waley-Cohen family a dream double following Long Run’s totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup victory last month, the 2010 Irish Grand National heroine Bluesea Cracker (10st 4lb) and Becauseicouldntsee (10st 8lb), who is trained by his owner Noel Glynn with the assistance of Jason Titley, rider of 1995 National hero Royal Athlete. Gordon Elliott, handler of the 2007 winner Silver Birch, is set to be represented by Backstage (10st 12lb), who was going well when unseating his rider at the 20th fence last year and has won his latest two outings in point to points.
It is 32 years since a Scottish-trained horse won the Grand National (Rubstic, 1979) and 50 years since a grey was successful (Nicolaus Silver, 1961). A horse out to buck both these trends is the Lucinda Russell-trained Silver By Nature (10st 12lb), who warmed up for Aintree with success in the totesport.com Grand National Trial at Haydock Park on February 19.
McCain is a surname synonymous with the John Smith’s Grand National, with Ginger McCain having sent out the legendary Red Rum to three victories (1973, 1974 and 1977) and added a fourth with Amberleigh House (2004). His son Donald has a live contender this year with Ballabriggs (11st), winner of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010 and runner-up to Skippers Brigg (10st 2lb) at Kelso last time out.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is the most successful current trainer in the John Smith’s Grand National, having sent out Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002) to success. In 2011, the Gloucestershire handler has a quartet to choose from including last year’s fifth Hello Bud (10st 5lb), who has already won over the National fences this season having taken the totesport.com Becher Chase in November. If successful, Hello Bud would be the first 13-year-old to prevail since Sergeant Murphy in 1923. Other runners from the Twiston-Davies yard could include Grand Slam Hero (10st 7lb), Roll Along (10st 7lb), who carries the colours of Bryan Burrough, owner of 1983 victor Corbiere, and Ballyfitz (9st 9lb).
Another previous winner among those going forward is Comply Or Die (10st 8lb), triumphant in 2008 for trainer David Pipe. Comply Or Die was also runner-up in 2009 and 12th in 2010.
A pair of John Smith’s Grand National regulars set to line up again on Saturday are State Of Play (10st 6lb), who finished fourth in 2009 and third in 2010 and Big Fella Thanks (11st 1lb), who was sixth in 2009 and fourth last year. Character Building (10st 4lb), seventh last year, is due to run again with amateur Nina Carberry booked to take the ride on the grey for the second year in succession.
The official elimination order, as decided Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping at the British Horseracing Authority, is as follows (maximum 40 runners)
39) ARBOR SUPREME,
40) OUR MONTY,
41) ROYAL ROSA,
42) SKIPPERS BRIG,
43) GOLDEN KITE,
44) ALWAYS WAINING,
45) PUTNEY BRIDGE,
46) BELON GALE,
48) LE BEAU BAI,
THE 2011 JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL
Class 1, Grade 3, £950,000 total Prize Fund. 4.15pm, Aintree, Saturday, April 9, 2011, four miles and four furlongs. For six-year-olds old and upwards which are allotted a rating of 110 or more by the BHA Head of Handicapping following a review of the horses entered and after taking account of races run up to and including February 13, 2011. Horses which are not qualified for a rating in Great Britain or Ireland at February 1, 2011, may also be entered. Such horses may be eligible for a weight providing the Handicapper is satisfied that the horse’s racecourse performances to February 13, 2011, would merit a minimum rating of 110. To qualify horses must have run at least three times in Steeple Chases run under the Rules of Racing of the same Recognised Turf Authority up to and including February 13, 2011. At the Handicapper’s discretion such horses may be allocated a rating. The decision of the BHA Head of Handicapping shall be final. No penalties after publication of the weights. Highest weight 11st 10lb. Entries closed February 1, entries revealed February 2 (102 entries, 3 subsequently scratched), weights revealed February 15, first scratchings deadline March 1 (82 remained), second scratchings deadline March 22 (74 remained). Five-day confirmation stage April 4 (65 five-day confirmations), final declaration stage 10.00am, April 7 – maximum field size of 40, plus 4 reserves. Form figures supplied by Weatherbys and are correct up to and including the racing of Sunday, April 3. WITH CORRECT NUMBERING & ORDER OF ELIMINATION
Form Horse Age/Wgt Owner Trainer/Probable Jockey
1) P1-P000 DON’T PUSH IT (IRE) 11-11-10 J P McManus Jonjo O’Neill/Tony McCoy
2) 04-3226 TIDAL BAY (IRE) 10-11-09 Andrea & Graham Wylie Howard Johnson/Brian Hughes
3) 211-524 WHAT A FRIEND 8-11-06 Ged Mason & Sir Alex Ferguson Paul Nicholls/Daryl Jacob
4) 1B-0044 VIC VENTURI (IRE) 11-11-06 Seamus Dunne Dessie Hughes IRE/Andrew Lynch
5) U62/1-31 MAJESTIC CONCORDE (IRE) 8-11-05 Dr Ronan Lambe Dermot Weld IRE/Robbie McNamara
6) 42F14 OR NOIR DE SOMOZA (FR) 9-11-05 Filsal Stadeg Racing David Pipe/Tom Scudamore
7) 1F24-41 DOONEYS GATE (IRE) 10-11-04 Jackie Mullins Willie Mullins IRE/Mr Patrick Mullins
8 ) 14-2F44 BIG FELLA THANKS 9-11-01 Crossed Fingers Partnership Ferdy Murphy/Graham Lee
9) 205-244 THE TOTHER ONE (IRE) 10-11-00 Graham Roach Paul Nicholls/Mr Ryan Mahon
10) 111-112 BALLABRIGGS (IRE) 10-11-00 Trevor Hemmings Donald McCain/Jason Maguire
11) 3133-21 THE MIDNIGHT CLUB (IRE) 10-10-13 Susannah Ricci Willie Mullins IRE/Ruby Walsh
12) 20P-F50 NICHE MARKET (IRE) 10-10-13 Graham Regan Paul Nicholls/Harry Skelton
13) 121-001 SILVER BY NATURE 9-10-12 Geoff Brown Lucinda Russell/Peter Buchanan
14) 0BP-500 BACKSTAGE (FR) 9-10-12 MPR & Capranny Syndicate Gordon Elliott IRE/Paul Carberry
15) 11-053F CHIEF DAN GEORGE (IRE) 11-10-12 Maurice Chapman Jimmy Moffatt/Paddy Aspell
16) 4-56242 CALGARY BAY (IRE) 8-10-10 Camilla Radford Henrietta Knight/Hadden Frost
17) 2P-2536 KILLYGLEN (IRE) 9-10-10 David McCammon Stuart Crawford IRE/Robert Power
18) 152-263 OSCAR TIME (IRE) 10-10-09 Robert Waley-Cohen/Sir Martin & S Broughton Martin Lynch IRE/ Mr Sam Waley-Cohen
19) 10-1131 QUINZ (FR) 7-10-08 Andrew Cohen Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson
20) 500423 NORTHERN ALLIANCE (IRE) 10-10-08 Irish Rover Syndicate Tony Martin IRE/Barry Geraghty
21) 2212-42 BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE (IRE) 8-10-08 Noel Glynn Noel Glynn IRE/Davy Russell
22) 000-06P COMPLY OR DIE (IRE) 12-10-08 David Johnson David Pipe/Timmy Murphy
23) F-FF25P QUOLIBET (FR) 7-10-08 J P McManus Jonjo O’Neill/Mark Walsh
24) 1FP10P GRAND SLAM HERO (IRE) 10-10-07 Walters Plant Hire Ltd Nigel Twiston-Davies/Aidan Coleman
25) 6/454-P6 ROLL ALONG (IRE) 11-10-07 Bryan & Philippa Burrough Nigel Twiston-Davies/????
26) 0/144/P3- STATE OF PLAY 11-10-06 William & Angela Rucker Evan Williams/Paul Moloney
27) 11-11P5 KING FONTAINE (IRE) 8-10-06 Trevor Hemmings Malcolm Jefferson/Denis O’Regan
28) U-3431U IN COMPLIANCE (IRE) 11-10-05 Westerly Breeze Syndicate Dessie Hughes IRE/Leighton Aspell
29) 005P-1P HELLO BUD (IRE) 13-10-05 Seamus Murphy Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies
30) P/00-11P WEST END ROCKER (IRE) 9-10-05 Barry Winfield & Tim Leadbeater Alan King/Robert Thornton
31) 200010 SANTA’S SON (IRE) 11-10-05 Douglas Pryde & Jim Beaumont Howard Johnson/Jamie Moore
32) C21-046 BLUESEA CRACKER (IRE) 9-10-04 J P McManus James Motherway IRE/Andrew McNamara
33) 01050 THAT’S RHYTHM (FR) 11-10-04 Don’t Tell Henry Martin Todhunter/James Reveley
34) P2/111/-0 SURFACE TO AIR 10-10-04 Tim Urry Chris Bealby/Tom Messenger
35) P-234PP PIRAYA (FR) 8-10-04 Terry Neill David Pipe/Johnny Farrelly
36) 6F-0P5P CAN’T BUY TIME (IRE) 9-10-04 J P McManus Jonjo O’Neill/Richie McLernon
37) 0-30563 CHARACTER BUILDING (IRE) 11-10-04 Patricia Thompson John Quinn/Miss Nina Carberry
38) 15/1P/-52 ORNAIS (FR) 9-10-04 The Stewart Family Paul Nicholls/Nick Scholfield
39) U2U-0P2 ARBOR SUPREME (IRE) 9-10-03 J P McManus Willie Mullins IRE/David Casey
40) 013111- OUR MONTY (IRE) 8-10-03 Colland Sand & Gravel Ltd Willie Mullins IRE/Ms Katie Walsh
41) P5U-42P ROYAL ROSA (FR) 12-10-03 Andrea & Graham Wylie Howard Johnson/Paul Gallagher
42) 313-011 SKIPPERS BRIG (IRE) 10-10-02 Ashleybank Investments Limited Nicky Richards/Dominic Elsworth
43) 210010 GOLDEN KITE (IRE) 9-10-02 Dr Anthony Calnan Adrian Maguire IRE/Shane Hassett
44) 006004 ALWAYS WAINING (IRE) 10-10-02 Mr & Mrs Peter James Douglas Peter Bowen/???
45) 321112 PUTNEY BRIDGE 9-10-01 Louise Goldsworthy Keith Goldsworthy/???
46) 4/22-1PP BELON GALE (IRE) 8-10-01 Andrea & Graham Wylie Howard Johnson/???
47) 402P-02 FAASEL (IRE) 10-10-01 Jim Ennis David Pipe/???
48) 02043P LE BEAU BAI (FR) 8-10-01 Glass Half Full Richard Lee/???
49) D61-0F0 MERIGO (FR) 10-10-01 Raymond & Anita Anderson Green Andrew Parker/???
50) 6-02162 ASKTHEMASTER (IRE) 11-10-00 Carrolle Wall Robert Tyner IRE/???
51) 11P61/0/- STARZAAN (IRE) 12-10-00 Ben Arbib Hughie Morrison/???
52) 123-P22 GILES CROSS (IRE) 9-10-00 KCMS Partnership Victor Dartnall/???
53) 1U0-660 SADDLERS STORM (IRE) 9-10-00 Billy Moffett/R T & J McLoughlin Tony Martin IRE/???
54) 1-PP11P SAGALYRIQUE (FR) 7-9-13 Sir Robert Ogden Donald McCain/???
55) U0-6042 AMBOBO (USA) 11-9-13 Deirdre Brassil Martin Brassil IRE/???
56) 241P64 DUERS (IRE) 9-9-13 Kate Kelly/Kate Ronan Paul Magnier IRE/???
57) 11120-P TOBY JUG 10-9-13 Paul & Caron Chapman & Sarah Humphrey Sarah Humphrey/???
58) 131-321 JUNIOR 8-9-12 Middleham Park Racing LI David Pipe/???
59) 064260 THE SAWYER (BEL) 11-9-12 David Fear Bob Buckler/???
60) 2613-PP GALANT NUIT (FR) 7-9-12 David Parry Ferdy Murphy/???
61) 044522 BALLYFITZ 11-9-09 Fred & Wayne Mills Nigel Twiston-Davies/???
62) F4-5365 POMME TIEPY (FR) 8-9-09 Susannah Ricci Willie Mullins IRE/???
63) 24U344 I’MONCLOUDNINE (IRE) 8-9-09 Fred Matthews Neil Mulholland/???
64) 116PP-P TREACLE (IRE) 10-9-04 Bjorn Nielsen Tom Taaffe IRE/???
65) P23221 REGAL HEIGHTS (IRE) 10-9-02 Janet Heler Tom George/???
The order of elimination was decided this afternoon by Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping at the British Horseracing Authority.
The declared runners will be known on Thursday morning and there will be four reserves which have to be utilised by Friday morning.
65 five-day confirmations 20 Irish-trained
The nine horses who did not go forward at today’s five-day stage were Midnight Chase, Synchronised, Scotsirish, Notre Pere, Ballytrim, Nedzer’s Return, Frankie Figg, One Cool Cookie and Dev.
Paul Nicholls, writing on his Betfair Blog, has announced most of his Aintree targets. I have skinned them down to a digest – if you want to read the full piece, you’ll find it here.
“Quite a few of my horses have multiple entries - and a couple in particular have got me scratching my head – but I have to get them right, and so I may leave the final decision on them until I have studied all the entries.”
We run Big Buck’s and Gwanako in the opening Grade 1 hurdle. Zarkandar- may be my only runner in the juvenile hurdle, though Empire Levant is still a possible.
Denman goes for the Totesport Bowl and I have three others in the race. What a Friend goes in the National, but Mon Parrain has two other entries (Topham, and a handicap on the Saturday). I will have to speak to Mr Hales about Neptune Collonges; ideally he would want plenty of rain, and if he is to get cut in the ground, it will be on the Thursday.
Blu Teen is entered in the Fox Hunters’ but I suspect he will run in a handicap at Ascot at the weekend.
Woolcombe Folly and Tchico Polos run in the 2m handicap chase and Ghizao steps up in trip for the Grade 2 2m4f novices’ chase.
We have four entries in the 2m4f handicap hurdle but it could be that I rely on just Sire Collonges if he gets in.
I have four entries in the opening novices’ hurdle, and none has been ruled out yet. But providing the ground isn’t too quick, it could be that Brampour is my main hope here. I could run Polisky too, but he is very much a horse for next year.
In the Grade 2 novices’ chase I rely on Robinson Collonges. The Minack, goes for the Scottish National.
Master Minded will be my only runner in the Melling.
Fistral Beach and Free World go for the Topham, and Mon Parrain has that option too.
In the Grade 1 3m novices’ hurdle, I am coming round to thinking that Indian Daudaie could be suited to this race. It is a Grade 1 race and it could cut up and I can see Ruby giving him one of his “creep rides” and going well. He also has the option of the 2m4f handicap on the Thursday but that trip could be on the sharp side round here. We also have the option of the 3m handicap hurdle on this day; Pistolet Noir will run in that.
It could be that Sam Winner will join Rock On Ruby in the race if the ground isn’t too firm.
There were only eight entries in the Maghull, so that will be re-opened. I put two in; Ghizao, targeted for the Thursday, and Pepe Simo. The latter is a clearly a possible, and the return to a smaller field could suit him better.
Celestial Halo will run in the Aintree Hurdle
Mon Parrain and Take The Breeze are entered in the 3m1f handicap chase, and I have my four in the Grand National, headed by What A Friend.
I have three in the conditional handicap hurdle; Tito Bustillo, Rock Of Deauville and Empire Levant. This race is probably my preferred Aintree race for the latter if he gets in; I would be keen to see him race off his current mark with Ryan taking 5lb off.
For weight watchers; how the National’s unique handicap has raised quality and rewarded those with the ‘Aintree factor’
Don’t Push It became the first horse to carry 11st 5lb to victory since Grittar in 1982 and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained chaser boasted some top-class form previously, most notably during his novice campaign over fences in 2006/07, when he posted three wins. He was also beaten three quarters of a length by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman in a novices’ chase and was still very much in contention when falling at the penultimate fence in the Grade One Arkle Chase at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival.
While previous results suggested that horses towards the head of the handicap struggle to win the John Smith’s Grand National, Don’t Push It’s was the third in the past six renewals to triumph in the world’s greatest chase with a weight of 11st or more. Hedgehunter carried 11st 1lb to victory in 2005, while Mon Mome shouldered 11st when he scored four years later. Both horses went on to prove themselves among the best of their generation away from Aintree, with Hedgehunter taking second in the 2006 Cheltenham GoldCup and Mon Mome coming home third in the same race in 2010.
Last year also saw a full field of 40 horses race off their correct weight for the sixth consecutive year, further demonstrating the rise in quality. The John Smith’s Grand National is unique in British horseracing because it has its own handicap, with every entry in the race receiving a rating partly based on any previous experience over the Aintree fences. This “Aintree factor” has allowed horses who have shown good form on the Grand National course to line up whereas they might have been denied a run in previous years.
Phil Smith’s role
The British Horseracing Authority’s Head of Handicapping Phil Smith, who has been responsible for framing the weights for the JohnSmith’s Grand National since 1999, has been instrumental in ensuring that horses who have excelled around Aintree are given the chance to run in the John Smith’s Grand National
A prime example of this came in 2004, when Amberleigh House gave Red Rum’s trainer Donald McCain a fourth victory in the great race. The 12-year-old had been denied his chance to line up in the race in 2002, when he was eliminated despite having won the totesport.com Becher Chase earlier the same season. Mr Smith’s assertion that Amberleigh House was a different horse around Aintree was vindicated as the veteran chaser beat Clan Royal by three lengths.
Mr Smith has also helped attract the best staying chasers by giving top-class horses a more lenient mark than their official rating. This is because there are very few Graded chases in the racing calendar that are contested over marathon distances and that it would be unfair to expect a horse to replicate a level of form achieved over far shorter than the four and a half miles of the John Smith’s Grand National.
Recent modifications to the race conditions have also helped improve the competitive nature of the National over the past decade. The top-weight was lowered from 12st to 11st 12lb in 2002, then dropped a further 2lb in 2009; reserves were introduced in 2000. In the past 11 years, a maximum field of 40 has started every year except 2004, when 39 went to post. Such measures have seen the quality of runners improve.
Dramatic rise in quality
The number of horses officially rated over 135 at the entry stages has risen dramatically from 55 in 2004 to 94 in 2010, while horses rated below 139 have failed to make the final field for the past two years, whereas the lowest-rated horse to take part in 1999 did so off a mark of 110.
In the 1990s and earlier, it was not unusual for horses who were racing from out of the handicap to run far better races than their handicap ratings would suggest. Just So was second to PartyPolitics in 1992 despite being rated 22lb below the 10st cut-off, with jockey Simon Burrough putting up a further 3lb overweight. Encore Un Peu also finished second when lining up out of the handicap as he went down by a length and a quarter to Rough Quest in 1996 despite being 9lb “wrong” at the weights.
The same year, Sir Peter Lely came home fourth despite being 12lb out of the handicap, while Three Brownies finished sixth after carrying 22lb more than his correct mark. Of the 27 runners, only nine raced in the handicap proper. The 1998 renewal also highlighted the disparity between the top and bottom of the handicap as the runner-up Suny Bay was rated 48lb better than the third Samlee, while Bobbyjo won the following year despite being a stone out of the handicap.
But perhaps the biggest change to the John Smith’s Grand National in recent times has been the massive injection of prize money. The contest carried total prize money of £250,000 when Lord Gyllene triumphed on a Monday in 1997, whereas last year’s winner Don’t Push It collected more than double that as the race had a total prize fund of £925,000. That amount has risen by a further £25,000 to a record £950,000 for 2011. Such a rise has allowed Aintree, thanks to the continued support of John Smith’s, to attract the best staying chasers and the John Smith’s Grand National is by far the richest chase outside of Japan.
There is more to come as it is the declared ambition to increase prize money to £1 million while the race is backed by John Smith’s.
My thanks to Racenews for the content